The Ricoh GR….A buyers guide

Posted on by Bellamy


The Ricoh GR series of cameras are great, but what are the differences?
This is something that I get asked an awful lot, so I thought I would put together this little guide for you. It should give you an idea about the differences and what to look for.

The Ricoh GR series of cameras has to be one of my favorite. There is hardly a more iconic compact camera than the Ricoh. The design is so simple, yet so effective and it has influenced the design of the modern series of GR Digital cameras from Ricoh.
The GR was originally released in 1996 and was the recipient of the TIPA award for best compact camera the following year. I like to refer to this time as the ‘compact wars’ as Ricoh, Contax, Minolta and Nikon battled it out to make the best compact camera of the age.
While I like to think there is no clear winner apart from the customer, I am not alone in thinking that Ricoh managed to produce a camera that has become a semi-icon in the modern camera age.
The GR1
When the original GR1 was released it marked a big leap in the idea of a compact camera. The camera features a 28mm f2.8 lens, display readout with the settings and the film counter, Multi subject autofocus and a 1/500th top speed. All this in a magnesium body that weighs only 175g. This was the idea camera for slipping into your pocket and shooting whenever you needed, but not having to compromise with a poor quality lens.
The GR1 has become harder to find over the years and now to find a mint one you are looking at about $400, sometimes more.

The GR1s
The next evolution in the series was the GR1s, which was introduced in 1997. The differences are so minor that you could be forgiven for not even noticing them, but they are there. The lens was given an uprated coating and a mount was fitted on the front of the lens so that you could use Ricoh filters. The display was also given an illumination feature, which was a huge improvement. Apart from this nothing changed, as it seems that they pretty much got it right the first time around. Same lens, same body and same sleek lines. The prices are about the same too.

The GR1v
This is the one that everyone asks me about. What is the difference between the GR1s and the GR1v, because they look the same. Well, they may look the same, but they are not the same. The GR1v was given some subtle but significant improvements over its little brother. Chiefly among them is the ability to set your iso manually (DX override). This is huge, as before you would have to mess around and tamper with the DX code on the film if you wanted to push or pull, but now you can select in camera.
Another improvement was the changed to the manual focus mode, giving you more control over the camera. Now you can set 1m, 2m, 3m, 5m and infinity. This is a big improvement and helps the photographer get more out of the camera. The final improvement is the auto bracketing mode that was added. This is not a deal breaker for me, but for some photographers it is a big deal.
So, this is why this camera is more expensive, usually around $600 for a clean one.

The GR21
Now this is the big one, the daddy, the final incarnation of the GR film line. The GR21 is a different animal from the rest of them. This camera was the first compact camera in the world to have a 21mm wide angle lens. The lens is an aspherical 21mm f3.5 multicoated piece of perfection, so good that they made it into an M-mount lens. You can tell a GR21 from a distance, because the lens sticks out even when the camera is switched off. All of the features that were developed on the previous models were included in this model. The camera is a little bit bigger than the GR1 due in part to that stunning lens.
Supposedly only 4000 or so of these cameras ever made it into production, and they are reputed to be hard to find. But I can and do find them pretty often. The average price for one of these beauties is going to make you weep though…at least $1000 and that is if you are lucky.

Ricoh GR issues
Like any camera, the GR is prone to faults and does need to be taken care of. They are hardy little cameras and can take a bit of a beating, but you should still make sure you are using a wrist strap and not dropping it down the toilet or something.
There are some problems that are specific to the camera and can be noticed pretty easily.
LCD:
The LCD has a habit of breaking. But, this is not always the end of the world. If the numbers are faded, switch on the camera and leave it switched on for about 20-30 minutes. This sometimes fixes the problem and the screen comes back to life. If this doesn’t work then you are going to need to get the screen replaced (more about that later).
Motor:
The motor on these cameras is not all that strong and it doesn’t last forever. You can usually tell if it is on the way out by the noise. If the camera is clicking or it is very noisy then the chances are that your motor is going to conk sooner rather than later.
Eyepiece:
The eyepiece is a simple rubber piece that is screwed on to the body of the camera. Over time this piece becomes worn and sometimes falls off. You can find replacements on junk cameras or you can have them replaced properly.
Foam:
Another common one. The foam baffle on the film window inside the camera wears out. Well, it is a piece of foam, what do you expect. If you are savvy with crafts you can replace it yourself, or you can have it replaced by the pros.

Repairs
Although I mentioned these problems, the great thing about these cameras is that you can have them repaired really easily. Ricoh Japan is servicing them and I have had many cameras serviced. They have never found a camera that they could not service and the prices are really reasonable. If you have one that you want to get serviced drop me a line and I can make it happen.

*UPDATE* As of mid 2013, Ricoh no longer services the GR1 due to lack of parts available. The GR1s and GR1v is not affected, but repairs are likely to cease by the end of 2014. 

If you would like me to find one of these fine cameras for you, then all you need to do is mail me and I can find something lovely for you. They are fantastic cameras and I have a lot of experience dealing with them.
Don’t forget to comment, tell me what you like about the Ricoh GR, or what you don’t like, but please comment.
Thanks
Japancamerahunter

32 Responses to The Ricoh GR….A buyers guide

Tim Kong April 10, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Fantastic post Bellamy!!

I heard volumes on this legendary line from Ricoh with it’s cult like following! Which actually spurred me on to pick one up from you a month or so ago. It is now my go to camera when I’m going out at night with friends! this lens is sharp as a tack! Thanks a bunch mate!

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Oliver April 11, 2012 at 3:54 am

AMAZING timing on this article. Was just contemplating one of these beauty’s but wasn’t sure of the differences etc.
Thanks man!

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Laurence Giles April 11, 2012 at 5:19 am

I used to work in photographic retail in the UK and got the chance to handle (and actually use for myself) a whole host of high quality compact cameras that competed at the time in the “compact wars” – Contax T2, T3, Tix and TVS, Leica Minilux, Minilux Zoom and CM, Nikon 28Ti and 35Ti, Olympus mju II and the Minolta TC-1. But the camera I rated above all these was the GR1 series. The build quality and features were exceptional, but most of all the lens quality was outstanding. In my opinion the 28mm f2.8 GR lens outperformed the Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2.8 found in the T3.

I loved the GR series so much I bought a brand new GR1v, which got more use than my Nikon F100 with expensive Nikon primes. In fact I still own it now and it still gives great results. I don’t think I’d ever sell it!

Definitely the best compact film camera ever made.

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Woods April 11, 2012 at 11:17 am

Bellamy, I sent you a mail to inquiry for GR1 price in Tokyo but you were about to leave to LA and I forgot to come back to you after your trip.
I luckily found a GR1v (http://www.flickr.com/photos/woodsbarrack/6993219429/in/photostream) at Kitamura that was not so expensive but showing signs of use (like a few scratches here and there, etc).
I’ve been looking for one around Shanghai for several months before that with no luck and I must say I’m more than happy with it. I carry it about everywhere I go. The SNAP mode is awesome for Street photography and the lens gives really great results.
Thanks for talking about this camera or sharing images if it, I guess that kind of convinced me I should be able to get one during my last trip to Japan !
Cheers,
Damien

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Akira Yamaguchi May 11, 2012 at 4:13 pm

If only Ricoh can produce a digital camera more similar to the GR series like the Fuji X100. The GRD is nice pocketable digital camera but it compares nowhere near its film predecessor.

Great review!

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AOI June 21, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Unfortunately these cameras are not built to last forever … and develop a list of problems … yet another problem one which seems to be pretty common … the LCD leakage in the viewfinder … in close inspection it looks like a black piece of plastic getting in the way inside the viewfinder obscuring the view, but it is the leaking LCD sandwiched between prisms. Just send my GR-1s this week for repair … rough estimate from Ricoh is ¥10.000 – ¥15.000

Also quite common problems with worn shutter release … with the switch becoming progressively less responsive to touch or triggering camera only in certain position … my other GR-1 got to the point of not activating the camera in 6-7 presses out of 10 (makes for a lovely paper weight tough :-)

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Iver June 23, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I have a question regarding the lcd problem being infamous with the GR series. Once you have the lcd serviced will it fix the problem forever? Or you will have to expect that in the near future you will then again experience lcd failures?

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    Bellamy June 23, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Bearing in mind that many of these cameras are over 15 years old it is perhaps unsurprising that there are LCD failures. Obviously repairing it will not fix it forever, but it will be good for a long time. Ricoh give a 6 month guarantee on all repairs and they are very good at what they do. I have never had anything come back after being repaired.
    Thanks

    Reply
thomas June 23, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Hi,
does anyone know how much Ricoh would charge to repair the motor of the GR? Mine has died yesterday and i would have to send it in from germany (don´t know about repair in europe). How common is this problem? Cheaper to find another camera?
Thanks, Thomas

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    Bellamy June 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    I can get them replaced by Ricoh on Japan. It usually costs about 10,000 yen. So it is still cheaper than getting a new one.
    Send me a mail and I shall give you the details.
    Thanks
    Bellamy

    Reply
Dan June 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Nice article. Thanks. Good to know they can be repaired pretty easily. Picking up a fully boxed black GR1S tomorrow! Got it for the bargain price of £200. Can’t wait. Means if I want to shoot film on a night out I don’t need to worry about taking my M6 and can take this instead. I know I’m going to really enjoy it. Recommend any good colour films to use with it? I’ve got some Portra 400 and Ektar 100 that should look really nice with that sharp lens.

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Steve September 4, 2012 at 2:01 pm

You don’t need to fiddle with the film canister if you want to push/pull film on the earlier cameras, my friend just uses the EV dial

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zeroeseight September 17, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Anyone know how much it costs to replace the eyepiece? I have just bought a second hand GR1v and the eyepiece is loose. Can a user replace it easily or should it be done by an engineer. Thanks.

Reply
    Bellamy September 17, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Finding the parts is the hard thing. If you get it done by an engineer you can have a check up and service at the same time to make sure your GR1v runs like a dream for the next few years.

    Reply
Dai Furuta May 13, 2013 at 3:40 am

Every time I come to your website and start reading GR reviews make me want to own one. Must have film camera. Can’t wait to go camera shops in Tokyo in this July. Try to find one GR series. (Although I am very beginner to film photography world, GR and XA2 will certainly bring excitement)

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bruant May 22, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Hello,

I have a Ricoh GR1 and the shutter is off.
If you have an address where I can get it fixed, thank you.
Ricoh Japan do not fix it anymore.

Thank you very much.

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Dave M May 28, 2013 at 8:27 am

Hi,

Nice to find your web site. I bought a GR1 when they first came out and used it for five years before it developed a bizarre problem. If there is no film in the camera, it easily locks focus, center, side, whatever, at any distance, and holds that focus while I release the shutter. However, if I put film in the camera, even though it initially locks on a focus point, it loses focus once I push the shutter release all the way.

Only once in ten years have I seen anyone else describe this problem, but no solution was given. I love this camera, but about 75% of the time it loses focus it just had. Can you help?

Regards,
Dave

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Jason October 30, 2013 at 5:57 am

Have both the GR1v and GR21 and I can’t say enough how much I love these two cameras. They are also compact enough that I can put both in my business bag (or is it a photo bag, haha) and take them wherever I go :)

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Joey Tamaki December 23, 2013 at 3:15 am

I have a near mint condition GR1 except for the eyepiece. Mine is the silver one and the beige rubber was wearing off the eyepiece. I tried to scrape it all off to make it entirely black, but broke the part where the screw goes in.

I believe the eyepiece would be the same for GR1 or any of its newer variations. Where in Japan would I be able to find this part?

Thanks. -jT-

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Tim Webster July 14, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Much as I loved these cameras, I wouldn’t buy one now because the electronics are just plain sketchy. Especially when you consider how much they were new. I’ve had several cheap Olympus Miu variants (which take a pretty decent photo – not as good as the GR1, but good) and they’ve continued to work flawlessly despite clumsy and reckless handling and the passage of time. I received a GR1s as a graduation present from my Mum when I finished university in 2000, and because of the price of the camera (it seemed an awful lot of money to me then) and the emotional attachment, I babied the camera and must have only put 30 or so films through it in all that time. It rewarded me thusly: first the LED segments became faint and sometimes wouldn’t show-up at all, the in about 2011 the shutter stopped firing mid-way through a roll of film. Just a click and whir of the film winding, but no shutter and no photo. These are technically great cameras, and I really like the size, aesthetics and the lens, but the build quality is absolutely awful otherwise they would have lasted longer.

My main film camera is a 1980 Pentax MX I bought twenty years ago. Despite some minor foam rot, it still works perfectly. And with the 28mm prime lens, it does take photos as well as the Ricoh.

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Hannah Platt October 11, 2014 at 9:52 am

Hi,

I’m in need of desperate help. I’ve just got back from a six week long trip in the states and mid-trip my Ricoh GR1s decides to fail me. It seems the shutter doesn’t want to fire anymore, when pressing down on the button it takes about five seconds to make it’s mind up, and then when it sounds like it’s firing the shutter doesn’t actually open. I don’t suppose anyone has any idea if this is fixable and around how much it’s going to set me back?

Thanks,
Hannah

Reply

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